Requiem: John-Mark Owen’s Requiem of Life
A Requiem is a mass for the dead usually celebrated in context of a funeral. But, John-Mark Owen’s “Requiem” is about life, celebrating it in its diversity, hardships and joys.
The evening opened with “A Short: Etude 6”. “Etude 6” was developed at the Great Friends Dance Festival as an exercise. Each morning Mr. Owen would select a piece of music and with-in a two-hour time frame he and his students would create a mini-piece and then show what was created in the evening’s performance. Etude 6 was a direct response to the July 29th shooting in a Colorado movie theater that wreaked havoc on innocent lives.
It is a piece for five dancers, JoVonna Parks, Kristin Deiss, Amy Brandt, Kerry Shea and Oisin Monaghan. It is a beautifully subtle piece of choreography. tableaux were established that would transition from one caring moment to another. The piece is filled with tender gestures and you get the deep resonance of emotion that was felt by the whole country when the Colorado movie tragedy was made known.
The surprise in this piece and in the evening all together was Oisin Monaghan. Mr. Monaghan’s androgyny allowed him to blend in but yet still stand out from the four women in the work. All five dancers were in floor length dresses that both hid and enhanced the body. Mr. Monaghan was a great treat to watch.
John-Mark Owen’s newest full length work, “Requiem” premiered at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center and it is a strong, rich and poignant work filled with dichotomy and parallels from Mr. Owen’s life. Though traditionally a “Requiem” is equated with death and funerals, Mr. Owen treatment is more about life, its possibilities and the sometime consequence of choices.
The sounds of Mozart’s “Requiem” filled the space as we sat in darkness, immediately your heart-strings are pulled by the sheer majesty of the choral music.
Introitus: Requiem begins with the group of twelve dancers spaced in an inverted V, all moving in unison, as if all are of one mind, one goal. But it is during Sequentia: Tuba Mirum that the ballet truly begins to shine, here Mr. Owen and Josh Christopher begin a duet of mutual sharing; each taking responsibility for the other in lifts that spiral to the floor. Neither is dominate or in control but instead we witness a duet that is unhurried and has a noble quality with sublime shapes of the body. Mr. Christopher is such a passionate dancer; his movement is a blend of the physical and emotional. He is able to exhibit such strength yet such fragility at the same time.
Aaron Mattocks portrays a character that is strongly opposed to the idea of a shared love between two men. He seems intent on separating and discouraging any sense of tenderness or caring. He is a creature wrapped in outdated traditions and fundamentalist views.
Kerry Shea is dancer that I wished was in everything I saw, she is a delight to watch, so fluid in her movements, movements that are transitioned from a deeply internal place. During Sequentia: Confutatis Ms. Shea kneels before Mr. Mattocks as if to say please understand, please accept. Ms. Shea is not daunted by Mr. Mattocks bullying character and seeks compromise and understanding from him but is always met with adamant denial.
Mr. Owen weaves his dancers and his movement tightly with the music in a way that is seamless, a perfect blend of lyrical shapes that pull the most from both the dancers’ body and as well as their emotions. There are moments when the dancers are posed in groupings as if from a classical painting, then these groupings would pulse with choral movements. Mr. Owen uses choral movement with such precision of speech; he is able to emphasize minute details where other choreographers may have lost focus.
In Offertorium: Hostias Mr. Mattock and Amy Brandt bully and lavish abuse upon Mr. Christopher with constant kicks that has him falling to the floor repeatedly. I felt this section too literal, too heavy-handed. I wanted to see it more choreographed, by it being so literal it lost power somehow.
In Cummunio: Lux Aeterna the dancers are twisted into parodies of themselves shapes of anguish and discomfort. Ms. Shea moves among them, helping to correct that which had been damaged upon the road of life, proving that caring in intrinsic and it is hate that is a foreign learned trait.
John-Mark Owen’s “Requiem” is a strong statement of the injustices and bigotry that still haunt our society. It is a microscopic view of the anguish and pain that can be instilled in others because of their choices not accepted by the mainstream of society. We congratulate ourselves on how far we have come as gay men and women but the focus should always remind on how far we still have to go.